Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Wall is Down

Not that wall, but it will do.

I don't need to reiterate my positions, I think, so let's look at this from the exegesis perspective. The images of people rushing over the wall are powerful, and most Western observers cannot help but compare them to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But there is a very important aspect of that event which is not intrinsically present here.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was about reunification. It was about a country divided by an external force - literally a force; not an ideology, though there may have been committed communists in the DDR. And after the wall fell, it was the sacred responsibility of West Germans to take care of their unfortunate siblings. It was not easy, and it sure as hell was not cheap, but it was inevitable. The wall came down, and the DDR was now part of Germany.

The wall came down in Palestine, and it's a wall between two Arab communities. Consider that in the weeks since the border between Gaza and Egypt has been open, there has been a suicide bomber attack in Israel, an attack that killed civilians. For the first time in a very long time! Causality would seem to suggest that walls in Gaza and the West Bank are effective at stopping terrorists, and these particular terrorists are said to have crossed into Egypt and back into Israel over the Sinai border (which is far less well-guarded - tourists at Egypt's Red Sea resorts are offered daytrips to Jerusalem).

Is there really any doubt in anyone's mind that if it wanted, Israel could have sealed up the wall? The terrorist attack is a sufficient pretense for the IDF to move in. Gaza is currently controlled by Hamas, which would undoubtedly react, but Rafah is not south Lebanon. With their backs to the sea and the fortified borders, Hamas would have no room for guerilla tactics, and in a direct urban shootout the Israeli army would rip them to shreds. Hezbollah would certainly make a move at the same time, but exactly because they could not avoid doing so, it would give Israel the opportunity to prepare and take advantage of another war started by the Arabs to pummel them into the dust. There must be plenty of IDF brass insulted by the Summer War debacle in 2006.

It could be that Israel is simply not ready to fight another war on two fronts simultaneously. Gaza and Lebanon are tough targets; after the remarkably poorly reported Israeli raid on a Syrian nuclear research facility some months ago, Syria could have ideas of revenge and reconquest of Golan, especially when backed by a pissed-off Iran. It's certainly a big factor that should not be discounted; Israel knows that if it moves into Gaza again, it would cause another war, and they would have a tough time with it.

But let's consider another aspect. One of the questions eternally posed in the blame-slinging of the Middle East crisis, and never answered to satisfaction, is why the Palestinian Arabs are not just taken in by the Arab countries. The combined population of Gaza and the West Bank is some 4 million; not inconsiderable, but between the Muslim states, not unmanageable either. Why don't Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. take in the refugees, give them jobs and homes? The world is full of refugees; losing your homeland is terrible, but it's not the end of the world. More people than that have gone through it in the 20th century, and built happy new lives for themselves in a friendly country.

The wall has come down; it is widely reported, with videos and photographs and blogs. And Westerners cannot help but ascribe the same significance to it as Berlin. The prison of poor Arabs has been broken, and the victims are spilling out into the land of the better-off Arabs for all the simple things they never had. The Egyptian military is just standing there, with no intention of impeding the human flow.

The longer Israel allows this to continue, the more people in the West will think of it as a reunification, and expect Egypt to take responsibility for the management of Gaza. It is entirely in Egypt's power to make Gaza a viable Palestinian home, an autonomous district relying on Cairo for security, utilities and economic assistance (much as it relies on Israel now). Would this solution be acceptable to Hamas? Unlikely. But to regular Gazans? Why the hell not? Nothing has shown itself to be as effective at disarming hostility as prosperity.

It's not a solution Egypt has been entirely comfortable with, but at this point they seem to be in a position where they can't really say no without alienating the bleeding-heart portion of the West. Israel is demonized for not allowing food and medicine packages into Gaza, but Israel has learned to live with the hatred. If Egypt seals the border and deports the Gazans, it will be made into a villain of startling proportion; and furthermore, a traitor to its own people. And Egypt is a Western-oriented state, which can ill-afford a boycott by all the German vacationers.

If this solution can be made to stick, it will be an enormous step forward. Israel will have found a viable long-term solution for Gaza, and the West Bank - far larger, more self-sufficient and calm - could either be given independence or turned over to Jordan in the same way.

The best thing about the scenario I have outlined is that it is not just my dream; it is a likely and logical evolution of recent events. It could very much happen. If this arrangement can be made to stick, the next generation of Palestinians will be working in Sharm el Sheikh hotels, and will only be annoyed by agitators calling for a holy war. Inshallah.


space_maze said...

Other Arab countries like Iran? :P

In any case .. I'm not much of a fan of telling people that have been deprived of their homes to just get over it already.

But yes, it makes you wonder that the Arab world has not managed to deal with a situation of this sort since 1948/1967.

It's definitely also a factor, though, that Arabs are perpetually ridicilously entangled in their own. T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom gives a very nice picture of this. It's exceedingly hard to get arabs from village X and village Y to work together. It's quite an accomplishment of Israel, really, to unite Arabs in their hatred towards Israel.

Given that, though, it's not quite as easy to get a guy from Ramallah to go to Damascus and make a happy living as it was to get a guy from Viipuri/Königsberg/Brno to move to Tampere/Dortmund/Vienna and make a happy living there.

antyx said...

Meh. Iran is part of this whole mess, even if it's Central-Asian ethnically. :P


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